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Accenture P&C Suite Announcement Prompts Enthusiasm, Skepticism

Systems compatibility and aggressive action following the Duck Creek acquisition have enabled rapid integration progress, but industry observers suggest that it's too early to declare "Mission Accomplished."

RELATED: Accenture Completes Duck Creek Acquisition... Accenture's Duck Creek Acquisition Signals Evolving Software and Mid-Tier Strategy... Reflections on Accenture's Emergence as a Multi-Tier Software Contender

Accenture (New York) has announced that it has completed the integration of its recently acquired Duck Creek policy administration platform with its Claim Components claims management system, resulting in the creation of what the vendor calls a comprehensive, integrated Property and Casualty (P&C) software suite. The emergence of a best-of-breed core system suite from Accenture is an entirely expected and welcome development for the insurance industry, but the timing of the announcement -- about three months after the Accenture announced its agreement to acquire Duck Creek -- raises questions as to just how integrated the new offering is at this stage.

Industry observers have recognized several potential benefits of Accenture's acquisition of Duck Creek: it provided needed resources to a growing vendor that struggled to match implementation resources to industry demand for its system; it helped to establish Accenture as a credible insurance core systems software vendor; it extended Accenture's market reach into the middle tier; and it astutely combined two leading systems -- Duck Creek and Accenture Claim Components -- built on Microsoft's .NET technology.

The Accenture products' common technology platform and service-oriented architecture have served to speed up integration, asserts Mike Jackowski, global managing director of Accenture Software's P&C business. He adds that the Duck Creek acquisition was preceded by a great deal of planning, enabling the two companies to "hit the ground running" once united and begin a 60-day Agile development sprint.

"We got the integration teams together on day-one in Bolivar, Mo. [Duck Creek headquarters], and we've been using Agile methodology to do core integration at the deepest levels," Jackowski says. "This is not just interfacing -- we have more intimate integration that creates more of an integrated suite."

Jackowski reports that the current state of the Accenture P&C software suite includes first notice of loss (FNOL) and coverage verification, including underwriting referral and analysis.

"We also retain a strong link between the Duck Creek customer file and the Claim Components customer file," Jackowski says. "That will facilitate our next release, which has consolidation down to a single customer file, and the conversion tied to that."

"Linking back to the policy side, we have all the triggers that will look at loss history to activate work flows on the Duck Creek side for underwriting referrals prior to renewal," Jackowski adds. "You can do a deep dive and link back to pull a lot of loss and claims details to be leveraged in the underwriting process."

Other current capabilities that Jackowski calls out as distinguishing the suite from more loosely coupled systems include a consistent, unified user interface across policy administration, billing and claims, as well as the externalization of product rules and claims coverage definitions. "It's a testament to the architectures of both systems to be able to externalize those rules," he declares.

Accenture also deserves credit for laying out a roadmap for further development of its solution, which should leave customers and prospects in less doubt than has often been the case with integrated suite offerings, according to Karen Furtado, a partner at Boston-based research and consulting firm, Strategy Meets Action (SMA). "They are blazing new territory here, as there is almost no precedent of a vendor going this far to create additional value through pre-integration in the detailed manner that Accenture Duck Creek is taking," Furtado comments.

Accenture's progress in integrating the two systems may be outstanding, but integration is not like pregnancy, quips Stephen Applebaum, a Chicago-based senior analyst with Aite Group specializing in P&C insurance. "There are shades of 'integrated,'" he says.

The Duck Creek acquisition brought Accenture a powerful and highly suitable software asset, but it also meant the embrace of integration challenges that have bedeviled other vendors that have acquired smaller players in pursuit of single-label, best-of-breed offerings.

"Accenture and Duck Creek have lots of very talented people and deep resources but a true integration -- even when the platform is a shared one -- in only a few months stretches credibility and begs for a detailed review of the points of that integration from a technical, workflow, reporting and user interface perspective," counsels Stephen Applebaum, a Chicago-based senior analyst with Aite Group specializing in P&C insurance. "After All, even Claim Components relies upon external links to third party software for such critical claims processing functions as predictive analytics."

Accenture should be congratulated for taking on the task of integrating Duck Creek and Claim Components into a holistic solution utilizing a common .NET architecture and leveraging SOA, comments Andy Labrot, principal at consulting firm Making SOA Work (MSW, Somers, Conn.). Accenture's announcement of the integration was encouraging, but it raised more questions than it answered, he asserts.

"While they may been able to implement low-hanging fruit such as support for FNOL and loss history reporting for underwriting support in the policy system, many significant integration hurdles must surely remain," Labrot insists. "Some of these hurdles are defining a road map that details subsequent development efforts and outlining a strategy for protection of existing customer investment in current implementations. Details on other key product integration aspects such as workflow, security, error-handling, user interface consolidation and configuration (beyond look and feel), consolidated logical data models and reporting/dashboard/analytic capabilities are also required in order to declare integration complete."

"I would strongly urge Accenture to be more specific in these and other areas so their efforts in integrating their products can be fully appreciated and understood by the marketplace," Labrot adds.

Clark Troy, Applebaum's colleague at Boston-based Aite Group, offers the observation that if Accenture has been able to effect seamless integration in the few months since it acquired Duck Creek, the accomplishment speaks volumes to the vendor's ability to get things done.

"Other vendors who have grown by acquisition have struggled to effectively knit the disparate pieces of their suites together over the course of years, and have sometimes even looked outside their organizations to emerging constructs, such as ACORD's Framework or its Plug and Play initiative to help newly joined sibling components work together well," Troy relates.

The insurance systems market is increasingly demanding options that combine the virtues of best-of-breed systems and traditional single-vendor advantages, according to Matthew Josefowicz, partner and managing director of New York-based Novarica. "Being able to offer truly pre-integrated components that leverage a common platform and data model, while still being able to be deployed all at once or sequentially, is rapidly becoming a competitive requirement for insurance core systems vendors," he opines.

How far down that road Accenture has gone is unclear, suggests Chad Hersh, Josefowicz's partner at Novarica.

"It's hard to know what's under the covers just yet," Hersh says. "However, the speed at which this announcement has come does indicate one thing with certainty: Accenture is eager to get the message out that they're serious about bringing Duck Creek into the fold."

Aite Group's Troy remains skeptical. "Just buying a platform and slapping a logo on it doesn't make it fit with other things sharing the same logo," he cautions. "The market will judge the completeness of this integration."

SMA's Furtado acknowledges that Accenture's announcement should be followed by specifics of its development plan but insists that Accenture is doing the right things for the insurance software market, in a manner to help carriers to do the right thing. "They're taking on the integration and bringing the benefits to the insurers," she says. "Core enterprise capability built from components that are pre-integrated is a very powerful solution in the market."

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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